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Exclusive interview with Kai Zhou
The journey of chasing dreams, bravely entering the cradle of the American automobile industry, and studying abroad in the Department of Systems Engineering of the University of Michigan


Editers | Fan-Ju, Liao Yi-Shan, Hsiao

Kai Zhou is a graduate of the Engineering Science Department of National Cheng Kung University and is currently studying in the Systems Engineering Department of the University of Michigan. While in college, he served as the electric team leader of the Chengdu Grand Prix team and led the team to participate in the Japanese FSAE competition. After graduating from college, he worked as a system integration engineer at Honghua Advanced Technology. After working for two years, he decided to study abroad in the United States and pursue his dream in the automotive industry.


Interviewee background

2024- Currently serving as PM of FST Electric Power Group

2023-2024 Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering, University of Michigan, USA

2021-2023 FST General Call

2020-2022 System Integration Group Engineer, Honghua Advanced Controller Development Department

2016-2020 Department of Engineering Science, National Cheng Kung University


Summary of each section

1. Discover yourself through work and set out to pursue your dreams: Bob’s motivation for studying abroad

2. FSAE experience stimulates passion for the automotive field, and the valuable experience becomes a powerful tool when applying for schools

3. Studying abroad life: a new learning environment, a new life circle, start over in English!

4. Diversified exploration outside of class: internships, entrepreneurship forums, and self-driving laboratories

5. Should I study abroad?

Discover yourself through work and set out to pursue your dreams: Bob’s motivation for studying abroad


Kai, like many college graduates, felt lost in his life. He graduated from the Department of Engineering Science. Instead of following the crowd and blindly pursuing further studies, he chose to enter the workplace first and joined Honghua Advanced Technology as a system integration engineer.


In the field of systems engineering, the most critical first step is to define the user requirements and record them in writing, such as "the car lights must be able to illuminate one hundred meters" or "the car can operate in extreme temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius" can be activated".


At Honghua Advanced, Kai is responsible for the integration of automotive systems. He needs to communicate and collaborate with people from different departments to define and integrate vehicle requirements. In addition, there are many components on the vehicle that require system control and the need to integrate the multi-functional components of the vehicle. Therefore, system integration engineers must have integration and communication skills, and actively coordinate meetings with different departments to clearly define and integrate the needs of all parties.


He found that although his university studies were extensive, they were particularly suitable for jobs that required integration, such as system integration engineers. At work, Kai discovered that he had a talent for being a systems engineer. What he learned at university enabled him to quickly understand the needs of different departments and integrate them together. He also discovered that he really enjoyed communicating with people and realized that he had a strong interest in positions that required communication and cooperation to solve problems. And realize that if you want to further improve your abilities, you need to receive more systematic education and training. Therefore, he came up with the idea of studying abroad.

Pursuing the dream of the automobile industry: choosing the cradle of the automobile industry-University of Michigan, USA

Kai believes that there are many reasons for choosing to study in the Department of Systems Engineering, mainly considering his interests and past ability foundation. During his work, he discovered that he had a strong interest in communication and integration roles. His two years of experience as FST's general coordinator further strengthened his communication skills and gave him more confidence to pursue career development in this area.


In addition, he understands that working as a system engineer requires basic knowledge in many aspects. The Department of Engineering Science that he studied at university gave him a broad background in engineering knowledge, which made him more suitable for integrated work.

When he was thinking about where to study abroad, he considered that the United States is the most prosperous place in the field of electric vehicles, with many automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers, as well as world-class automotive engineering talents . Therefore, he finally decided to join the United States and chose to study in the Systems Engineering Department of the University of Michigan to realize his dream of furthering his studies in the automotive industry.

FSAE experience stimulates passion for the automotive field, and the valuable experience becomes a powerful tool when applying for schools



From a whim to a passion


Talking about the initial opportunity to get involved in the automotive field, Kai recalled that one day when he was in college, he went to Taichung on a whim to watch an energy-saving car competition, which piqued his interest. The following year, he decided to call on his partners to establish a Chengdu Grand Prix racing team.


At that time, Kai, as the leader of the electric team, was trying to figure out the rules of Formula Student racing from scratch. He and his partners worked day and night in the studio with the goal of completing the vehicle before the shipping deadline to travel abroad to participate in the Japanese FSAE competition. During that time, they faced tremendous pressure and challenges, but eventually overcame the difficulties and successfully completed the game.


At that time, there was no Formula Student competition in Taiwan, so being able to overcome shipping problems and compete abroad was a very meaningful milestone for the emerging teams. Talking about his experience participating in the FSAE Japan Competition in his junior year, Kai believed that going to Japan to participate in the competition together gave him a great sense of accomplishment. He firmly believes that as long as you find the right team and work together, a group of people can achieve many impossible things. thing. This sense of accomplishment also makes him more willing to continue investing in the automotive field.

FSAE Japen’s participation experience and FST general call: Is there a simple reason that can bring everyone together?


FST was established during the epidemic. Its original intention was to give teams that were unable to travel abroad to participate in competitions an opportunity to showcase their results. But this is only one of the reasons.


His original intention was: "Is there a simple reason to bring everyone together? We simply discussed, what about the design of a car like this? There is no need to compete for orders, and at the same time, we can recognize people from different professional fields. People. During the competition, gather classmates and seniors who have graduated. A group of people can create many opportunities."


After working, Kai realized that it was easy to get stuck in his own field. He believes that the FST League can break down the wall between companies and allow everyone to have more exchanges. For example, senior Huang Ping shares vehicle dynamics knowledge with everyone. On the other hand, you can also expand your network and help each other when applying for jobs.


In addition, the FST League can promote cooperation among industry, academia and government. For example, he said that in the process of organizing a competition, the FST working team needs to mobilize resources from all parties, which can not only help the participating teams improve their strength, but also promote the growth of the FST working team itself . These people will influence the development of industry and academia.

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"If you want to ask me whether I recommend everyone to join the league? Ask! It is recommended!"


He said that the FST League is a good learning and communication platform that can help students make greater progress in personal growth and career development. Through each Formula Student event, he has learned more about the areas he is suitable and unsuitable for, and continues to accumulate knowledge related to electric vehicles, such as batteries, motors and controllers.


Formula Student Experience: Bob’s weapon when applying to school


In terms of vehicle design, Formula Student also provides many opportunities for practice. FSAE's specifications are like the requirements put forward by car manufacturers. In the early stages of design, these conditions must be thought about and clarified, such as the configuration of functions, where to place them, how to improve efficiency, and how to obtain profits, etc. Even after-sales service, these factors will affect the vehicle design process.


This knowledge and practical experience came into play when applying for graduate schools and proved that he has the corresponding abilities. Especially in the United States, many top car manufacturers use FSAE experience as an important indicator of capabilities . They believe that FSAE participation experience can prove students' engineering design capabilities, teamwork skills and problem-solving abilities. When applying to the school, the school also paid special attention to personal thinking process and leadership potential , and the FSAE experience also provided him with a wealth of practical opportunities and materials, allowing him to prove himself. This is one of the core values emphasized by Formula Student.


Studying abroad life: a new learning environment, a new life circle, start over in English!


In August 2023, Kai went to the United States and prepared to start studying abroad. In his daily life, he found that people in the United States like and are very accustomed to chatting with others. Even strangers can start chatting naturally.


" The United States gives me the impression that it is a very free and very creative place."


In addition, he describes the environment in which he lives. The geographical location is remote and far away from the city. When driving at night, there are often no street lights. Life lacks the scene of a city and is not as convenient as in Taiwan. To watch a football match, you need to drive for 40 minutes, which is a relatively short distance. In terms of solving daily life needs, it is not as convenient as in Taiwan. In his free time, he used to get together with other international students to chat about their daily life in the institute.

The cultural shock of American education: students love to ask questions and professors use case-based teaching


As soon as he arrived in the United States, school classes began immediately. He needed to communicate in English immediately and adapt to the new learning environment.


Kai observed that when attending classes in the United States, students are very brave to ask questions in class. They are willing to have in-depth discussions with teachers in specific areas. Teachers also like to ask questions in class and advance the course through question-and-answer methods.


He still remembers that in an embedded systems class, the teacher asked a very strange question: "How to attach a device that can send and receive signals to a zebra while ensuring that it will not be thrown away during the African Great Migration?" Hearing questions like this can be confusing at first, but it’s the kind of questions that get students thinking and spark interesting research directions.


In addition, professors often use real cases in the industry to conduct case-based teaching, and it is often the parties involved in the cases who explain. Past failure cases are usually selected as individual cases. For example, the professor personally shared the challenges in designing the Hubble Telescope, explained the dilemmas system engineers faced when making decisions, how to deal with lens errors, how to estimate the probability of success and failure behind each decision, and learned how to Coordinate the interests of all parties. Bob believes that this case-based learning model helps to gain a lot of knowledge and experience outside of textbooks, and is also closer to practice.


Diversified exploration outside of class: internships, entrepreneurship forums, self-driving laboratories


In addition to attending classes and handing in homework, Kai uses his extracurricular time to diversify his investment in areas of interest , including participating in the Michigan Entrepreneurship Forum, participating in laboratories related to self-driving car research and development, and seeking internship opportunities at Lucid Motors. In addition, another reason why I came to the United States in the first place was to observe the automobile industry up close in Michigan, a major automobile industry town.

Overcome the language barrier and get accepted as an intern at Lucid Motors!


When I first arrived in the United States, in addition to adapting to the new learning environment, I also had to immediately face the challenges of the job fair. Career fairs are an important way for American college students to find job opportunities. As soon as school starts, almost all students are busy submitting resumes, putting on suits and participating in interviews, seeking jobs and internship opportunities.


For Kai, the biggest challenge he faces when applying for a job is communicating in English. He must practice expressing his ideas clearly in English, overcoming cultural communication barriers, and convincing the interviewer in English to give him a chance. For example, in a case interview at a vehicle consulting company, Kai and eleven other interviewees were divided into four groups and had a one-hour discussion in English, and then needed to report the discussion content to the interviewer. This was a huge challenge for him who had just arrived in the United States.


However, his past work experience helped him at this time. Compared with other interviewees, he was better able to use professional terms to express himself and show his knowledge in the automotive field, which was a major advantage during the interview . In the United States, although internship opportunities are plentiful, competition is also fierce, and popular positions often have hundreds of applications. But for Kai, despite facing many cultural and language challenges, he was still able to stand out among the applicants with the advantage of his work experience. During his job search, he applied for 50 vacancies, received 4 internship opportunities, and finally chose the internship opportunity at Lucid Motors. He also shared his joy when he received the admission call:


"On an ordinary afternoon, while waiting at the bus stop, I received a phone call that gave me goosebumps. At that moment, I felt that studying abroad was the best decision I had ever made."


Two days before I received the call, I had just finished my internship interview at Lucid Motors. The moment he received the call, it proved that he had successfully broken through the language barrier, that he could persuade others in English, and that he was professional enough to be qualified for the position, which moved him very much.

Michigan Entrepreneurship Forum, moving towards the dream of entrepreneurship

During the interview, Bob mentioned his interest in entrepreneurship.


" If you have any ideas, just implement them. It's very exciting and makes you want to jump out of bed and start doing things right away. I also like to create a team and build cars together in a team. A group of people have a goal and achieve it together."


Therefore, he set aside time to actively participate in entrepreneurial activities in Michigan, such as entrepreneur gatherings. The event attracted many people to fly to the local area from various places to participate, and many entrepreneurs shared their entrepreneurial experiences at the event. On the last day of the event, the University of Michigan's entrepreneurial team also held a small entrepreneurial competition to provide a platform for participants to communicate and share.


The reason for continuing to participate in such activities is to gain inspiration from communication with other entrepreneurs, while also expanding contacts and accumulating resources.


HaptiX Lab : Exploring the future of human-vehicle interaction

While studying abroad, Kai participated in the "HaptiX Lab" established by the Department of Robotics. HaptiX Lab is mainly exploring how to promote "dialogue" between humans and vehicles in the future Level 3 self-driving mode. What’s special about this laboratory is that traditional car manufacturers, such as Toyota, continue to promote research in this area through sponsorship, and also indicate that the research results may be applied to actual car production in the future to enhance the human driving experience.

Kai chose HaptiX Lab because the laboratory's research direction matches his personal interests. He said that he has a strong interest in the multi-field applications in Level 3 self-driving mode. For example, on complex city streets, the steering wheel is originally only used as a tool for humans to issue instructions. But in addition to its original function, does the steering wheel have other uses? Together with doctoral students, he designed a series of experiments to study the impact of different tactile feedbacks on driving behavior.

Questions such as whether to join a laboratory and what kind of laboratory to join are all issues that must be carefully considered when choosing a laboratory. At that time, he chose HaptiX Lab mainly because the working atmosphere suited him, the work content matched his interests, and the workload was within his load range .

Should you study abroad?


When it comes to studying abroad, Bob cited some things that need to be thought about first.


The ideal is full, the reality is skinny


The first step in considering whether to study abroad is to clarify the reality . Studying abroad will inevitably require certain resources, and everyone has different resources. If you don’t have resources, you can find ways to raise them, whether you work first to save money or find relevant subsidy channels. You must first measure the resources you have before you can plan for the next step .

All roads lead to dreams, but why go abroad?

In addition to measuring their own resources. Kai emphasized that studying abroad is a major decision that requires careful consideration. Before making a decision, you should fully understand your interests, abilities, and goals, and evaluate your own resources . For him, the reason for studying abroad is to observe the automobile industry closely while studying abroad, and at the same time take the opportunity to get to know people and expand his network, rather than simply working or studying.

For those who like research, Kai recommends taking on a doctoral program and spending about five years studying a specific field in depth to gain a place in that field. The advantage is that you can apply directly for doctoral programs in the United States with your university diploma, and there are many scholarship qualifications. Many companies in the United States are willing to invest resources in sponsorship.

At the end of the interview, Kai posed this question to readers who want to study abroad:

"Why do you have to go abroad?"

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